Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday that two California universities are its first U.S. customers for hydrogen fuel-cell autos as the company seeks to establish its low-pollution technology as an industry standard.
The automaker will lease one modified version of the Highlander sport utility model to UC Irvine and another to UC Davis. The schools will each pay $10,000 a month on a 30-month lease.
Toyota and rival automakers are racing to offer fuel-cell technology in anticipation of tighter environmental rules.
Fuel cells, used in spacecraft for decades, create electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen, and under ideal conditions produce only steam as a byproduct. High costs and a lack of hydrogen-fueling stations limit current prospects for the technology.
"Bringing practical fuel-cell-powered vehicles to the mass market will require a considerable investment of time, resources, cooperation and patience," Jim Press, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Toyota's U.S. sales unit, said in a statement. "This program marks a significant first step."
Last month Honda Motor Co. announced plans to lease five fuel-cell cars to Los Angeles, with one to be delivered this year and four in 2003. The company hasn't disclosed when the first vehicle is to be delivered to the city or the lease terms.
General Motors Corp., the world's largest automaker, also is investing in the technology and has said it expects to be first to sell 100,000 annually as early as 2010.
Toyota is providing the universities with an FCHV, or fuel-cell hybrid vehicle, model that uses an electric motor as a backup.
The FCHV has a Toyota-developed fuel cell stack, seats five and has a top speed of more than 90 mph. The company said Monday that it also would lease four FCHVs to Japanese government agencies starting Dec. 2.
Toyota's U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance. The company's shares fell $1.39 to $51.85 on the New York Stock Exchange.